From high school through college and up to the professional level there has been an abundance of controversy surrounding arguably the most popular sport in the US, football. From post concussion syndrome to domestic violence to creepily objectifying behavior and a seemingly endless number of rape accusations that are almost always swept away, there seems to be an endemic problem with violence (especially against women) in the game. Some have even called for a ban on the game at younger levels. I would argue banning football is totally unnecessary, but banning fans might solve all of football’s problems.
Naturally I don’t expect fans to actually be banned from football, that’s ridiculous, but all of the major problems with football are from fan obsession. How so? It’s not team members that create the entitlement culture around football players, it’s the fans who hold up the players to godlike levels. AJ McCarron isn’t out there saying to ESPN, “hey, look at how hot my girlfriend is because I’m a football player,” presumably because AJ and Katherine have a relationship that has to do with more than her attractiveness and his athletic ability. But the announcers certainly did. The millions of dollars generated from bowl games that might encourage schools to keep accused rapists on their active game day rosters isn’t from student ticket sales, it’s from commercials, media, and fans. Even at the high school level, where huge sums of money aren’t involved, players accused of rape with video evidence are often times not faced with punishment for their crimes because their value as a football player is greater than that of some girl. Parents in the school district openly discussed the girl as somehow deserving of the assault and argued the “boys will be boys” defense.
Rape culture isn’t a unique problem to football, indeed when Jordan Johnson was acquitted last week the assistant attorney general used the “why didn’t you fight back/scream,” argument against his accuser, which we hear in cases not involving football players as well. What football uniquely has is this weirdly patronizing assumption that either:
A. The woman actually wanted to sleep with the football player (because he’s an “alpha” and “who wouldn’t?”) and is just having regrets after being found out.
B. That his position as a football player makes it okay to take sex from women he wants because football is just that important.
Neither of these conclusions should be considered acceptable. If you replace “football player” with “bus driver” or “line cook” none of these accused men would have literal legions of fans supporting them and debasing their accusers.
Fan obsession doesn’t just hurt women. In the 2012 NFL season quarterback Mat Cassel suffered a serious head injury during a game and as he was being removed from the field fans cheered his injury. Let me say that again: a man received an injury that could likely lead to irreversible and lifetime agony and people cheered about it. That’s not just crass, it’s sick, it’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from a sociopath not from thousands of “adoring” fans. The very existence of “injury reports” undermines the health of players and takes the ownership of their bodies away. Players cheat on their preseason cognitive tests so the when they are concussed and actually failing the test, they can continue to play. Retired players dealing with the horror that is CTE have to sue just to get their employers to even acknowledge that the environment they worked in was unsafe (and that they knew it was unsafe) and scramble to try and get some (what should be considered worker’s comp) medical care for their injuries. Men are killing themselves, in both the literal suicide sense and the longer term metaphorical sense. What has the fan response been? “They knew the risks.” “Football is a dangerous game.” And to cheer head injuries.
Merle Kessler said, “Football players, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers,” and I’d have to agree. Football players have always played hard, even back in the days of small crowds and modest contracts, it’s the love of the game. The ever-increasing size of players (which likely has some unnatural causes), the harder hits, the playing injured, that all comes back to the fans and the money that comes from the fans.
You want to get rid of the entitlement and rape culture rampant in football? You want to stop the horrifying brain injuries of players? Tell the fans to shut up. Tell the fans to stop making gods out of men. And for God’s sake, stop pretending that a game is more important than a life.